My year in Israel with FZY 1984-1985. Part Three – Kibbutz Ketura and Moshav Nir Yafe.

Our five months on the Machon came to an end and us six FZYniks had to bid farewell to all our lovely friends. The English folk were bound to turn up again* in our lives but the likes of Alejandro from Uruguay were unlikely to be fellow students at Birmingham Poly. It was 1985 and we knew nothing of the world wide web. We certainly couldn’t envisage online social networking (which is really quite a shame as we may have made a few shekels.) We hugged and we cried and we swore we’d keep in touch. And off we went, down south for the next part of our adventure.

Kibbutz Ketura was founded in 1973 by a settlement group from Young Judaea (FZY’s American sister movement) and is situated 30 miles north of Eilat.  They were the lucky sons of guns who got us lazy and sarcastic Brits for a whole month. I cannot remember much about my stay there and I don’t know why (it certainly wasn’t due to alcohol or drugs.) The quiet, relaxed atmosphere was a culture shock after the exuberance and hormones of the Machon. An unintentional re-hab.

Despite having no artistic talent whatsoever I was put to work decorating Mezuza covers. (I have since looked on the kibbutz website and noticed that this is not one of their ongoing businesses – I do hope I had nothing to do with this.) Socially there was not much going on that interested us, but I do remember two attractions that we loved. The first was the cotton mountain. This was a mound of cotton in its raw form straight from the fields. It was white and soft and we spent hours playing in and on it. If somebody had wanted to make a video of us (though why would they) they could have filmed us with that song “We are young, we are free…” in the background. The second attraction was a Shetland Pony called Nuss Nuss. I think he was the only creature on the kibbutz who liked us. I don’t remember mixing much with the kibbutzniks, but I can’t remember why. They assigned us families who we could visit and I remember a trip out to Hai Bar nature reserve. Twenty seven years on and I have now experienced ungratefulness from the receiving, or more aptly non-receiving, end in the form of my two children (age 15 and 12). So, if during my stay on Ketura I failed to show gratitude for time and effort bestowed upon me by the hard working members, I sincerely apologise. (I was probably just grumpy ‘cause there were no hunky boys there.)

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the kibbutz experience. However, as an adult, it appeals to me on a different level. In my mid-forties, I would love to go and spend an away from it all month on a kibbutz. I’m quite good at early mornings now and have never been found asleep at work. I would make the effort to get to know people and I would certainly appreciate any meal that is made for me. So why don’t we middle aged folk do this? I was discussing this with my husband the other day and a rare thing happened… I actually agreed with him. He asserted that volunteering on kibbutzim and other ‘gap year’ experiences are fun because you are so young. If we went now we’d be worrying about ageing parents and how the mortgage was being paid etc. If we left the kids at home ….uch, I don’t even want to go there.

(Now, I’ve written this I’m not even sure I agree any more. I’ll go and tell him I’ve changed my mind, he loves it when I do that.)

The third part of our year was different again – the Moshav experience. This time we were leaving the bosom of the group and being sent to different venues (although all close by). I cannot tell a lie, as I entered Moshav Nir Yafe I was very excited to see the large, modern houses. I’d kept to myself my disgruntlement about the kibbutz not having a swimming pool and my patience was going to be rewarded by a luxury pad – maybe I’d even have an en suite bathroom. The house I was led to was strangely only half built. Hmm, ‘what’s going on here then?’ I thought to myself, ‘am I going to be building the rest of it myself? Is this some kind of a chalutznik challenge?’ And then I saw it, the little house next to it that was going to be my home for the next month. The host family were Moroccan and the mum hugged me warmly. Not one of them spoke a word of English so we muddled through in Hebrew and French. There was a ten year old boy (not much interest to an 18 year old girl), two older boys in the army (very much interest to an 18 year old girl) and finally … my new roommate Revital. Revital was one year old and was about as pleased as having me for a sleeping partner as I was her. Her mother explained the origin of her name: “REVI – tal. Lots and lots of dew.” Revi-tears more like. Jeez, did that kid have a cracking pair of lungs on her. After a peaceful month of good sleep on the kibbutz, I was back to the waking nights of the Machon (but of course for different reasons.) I really didn’t want to seem ungrateful, after all this lovely family had welcomed me into their home and my appetite has always been far from petite. My friend Linda was just down the road on the moshav with another family (in a massive house) and often came round for a coffee and a natter. One day, we were having a cosy French-brew chat and the nature of little Revital’s birth was explained. “Pankture” – the mum explained (I so wish I could remember her name.) Linda and I looked at each other. Was this a Hebrew word, a French word? “Pankture” she said again this time acting out the word. The penny dropped. The little screamer had come into existence due to a hole in a condom. Trop de information.

Now maybe I’m just typically English (you know, reserved and all that) but there was something else a little strange about this family – no locks on the toilet door. I was never caught on the job, as it were, but perhaps even worse, I did walk in on someone else. The image of a ten year old boy simultaneously sitting on the toilet and playing Taki (I believe it’s now called Uno) on the floor has never left my mind. So there we have it, what sort of a person am I? I cannot remember the name of the woman who took me into her home for a month, but I do remember her son had a very strong hand of cards.

I didn’t ingratiate myself in the workplace either. The family had a hothouse and exported flowers to Europe. The job was to pick the duff bits off the stems of the Gypsanit, leaving the bloom ready to pack and be sold. It was hardly rocket science, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. I don’t know if it was the sleepless nights or having to get through the day without speaking English, but I was no florist and I probably cost them a fortune in lost revenue. I started to pretend I didn’t hear the wake up call (the real one, not Revital’s) and they stopped caring. By the time I apologetically swanned into the hothouse, it was all over for the day. It was a win win situation.

The moshav was near Afula, the nut capital of the world and I’d meet up there with my fellow FZYniks for a falafel and a bag of pistachios. There was even still a few Mexicans floating around. The next and final part of the trip was almost upon us – working in Ashkelon, which was then known as a ‘development town’. My mullet had grown out and I was ready for what Israeli was going to send my way next.


*In between the kibbutz and moshav, two of our mums flew over from Leeds to see us and we stayed in a lovely hotel in Eilat. Some of the boys from the Hanoar Hatzioni group, who we were never that friendly with, turned up to visit us and just so happened to spend the day at the pool.

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Author of Two Kids One Bathroom for The Jewish News. (Oh and there's a husband too.)